Francis Ponge (1899-1988) was known as the poet of things. For a future anthology, that drifts further and further away in my imagination the more poetry I am exposed to, I read a thing about doors in an English translation by Raymond Federman:
The Pleasures of the Door
Kings do not touch doors.
They do not know that happiness: to push before them with
kindness or rudeness one of these great familiar panels, to turn
around towards it to put it back in place-to hold it in one’s arms.
The happiness of grabbing by the porcelain knot of its belly one
of these huge single obstacles; this quick grappling by which, for a
moment, progress is hindered, as the eye opens and the entire body
fits into its new environment.
With a friendly hand he holds it a while longer before pushing it
back decidedly thus shutting himself in-of which, he, by the click of
the powerful and well-oiled spring, is pleasantly assured …
Is the opening of this line the strongest republican statement we’ve ever read? Stated matter-of-factly as an introduction to the pleasures of the door, we understand how the pinnacles of realism and surrealism coincide. I like it, but Ponge will need to hit exactly the right tone to deliver.
And he does. The observation of the pocelain doorknob and the great familiar panels is precise. We see the common people engaging in the mundane act of opening a door. Their ‘progress is hindered’ for a moment, they experience an obstacle unlike the king, who commands all obstacles out of his royal way. But that is just interpretation – Ponge leaves it to the reader to draw their own anti-monarchist conclusions.
The person with the friendly hand is anonymous. He holds it a while longer before closing the door behind him. Personally, I can relate. I have touched wonderful doorknobs, some were still functional, some were in royal palaces turned museums, where the opening and closing of doors is prohibited because it hinders the progression of the museum’s visitors who wish to see the extravanganza of a Louis XIV or a Kaiser Franz.